In the annus mirabilis of 1971, Michael Hart conceived of electronic books (e-books), open sourcing, and of user-generated content in one stroke of genius.
Hart established Project Gutenberg: a repository of tens of thousands of public domain texts, freely available online. It is the largest and most comprehensive of its kind and has spawned numerous imitators, emulators, and mirror sites. E-books became a mainstream item with giant commercial enterprises – from Microsoft through Yahoo and Amazon to Google and Barnes and Noble – entering the fray.
Project Gutenberg relied on the contributions and input of volunteers from around the world, who digitized public domain books in accordance with an ever-evolving set of rules. The software underlying the Project was available to be modified, tinkered with, and replicated on other Websites, This model of collaboration now underlies open source software, “crowdsourcing”, and projects such as the Wikipedia.
Most pundits agree that in the history of knowledge and scholarship, e-books are as important as the Gutenberg press, invented five centuries ago. Many would say that they constitute a far larger quantum leap. As opposed to their print equivalents, e-books are public goods: cost close to nothing to produce, replicate, and disseminate. Anyone with access to minimal technology or even the oldest computers can read e-books.
Project Gutenberg eBooks were being read on iPods within a week of the latter’s introduction, not to mention cell phones and smarter variants thereof, such as the iPhone. With well over 4 billion cell (mobile) phones (according to the United Nations) compared c. 1 billion computers, the former may well turn out to be the preferred platform for reading text.Over the years, I have interviewed Michael Hart and we have corresponded prolifically on a variety of topics. I have always relished his anti-authoritarian streak. Michael is a true, unvarnished and non-compromising independent, out to empower the individual at the expense of faceless, heartless corporate and government bureaucracies. MK bag sale in uk